Summer Fun

A Final Taste of Summer Music, Free of Charge

Summer’s not officially done until you’ve seen at least one gratis outdoor concert. WSWD music expert John Seroff has the best.

It’s the time of year when you have to take stock of your season and frankly ask yourself, Have I had my fill of summer yet? All too often, New Yorkers find that the best-laid plans of the hotter months come to nothing and they’ve yet to get out to see the great live outdoor shows they penciled in their calendars back in April. If it’s August already, is there any hope for dancing in the twilight, a warm breeze in your hair and a cold beer in your hand? Yes, yes, there is. Better yet, so many of the great outdoor concerts left this season won’t cost you a penny.

What Should We Do?!’s music expert, John Seroff, takes you on a guided tour of four of NYC’s biggest music festivals happening this month, including can’t-miss show highlights, suggestions on what to eat while you’re there, and insider tips on how to navigate the crowds like a pro.

City Parks SummerStage

WHERE IS IT?
Although SummerStage shows happen in all five boroughs, the largest artists and biggest performances tend to take place in Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield, just off East 69th Street and Fifth Avenue. That said, a curious concertgoer will find lots of exceptions to that general rule, including the acclaimed Charlie Parker Jazz Festival (August 24–27), which features a number of shows from way uptown at Marcus Garvey Park to way downtown at Tompkins Square Park.

WHAT SHOULD I SEE?
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On August 6, local impresario DJ Rekha hosts the final installment of her monthly Basement Bhangra dance party with an all-star selection of MCs and DJs, including Apache Indian, Madame Gandhi, Amir Khan, and Panjabi MC.

• All-ages fun is the name of the game when quirky alt-rockers They Might Be Giants host SummerStage’s Family Day on August 12, promising classics like “Why Does the Sun Shine,” “Istanbul Not Constantinople,” and “Robot Parade.”

• On August 20, Ethiopian jazz luminary Mulatu Astatke headlines an amazing world music lineup, including Tunisian Emel Mathlouthi and Sudanese-American Alsarah & the Nubatones.

WHAT CAN I EAT?
With a regular engagement through Smorgasburg cohorts the Brooklyn Flea, SummerStage offers some of the best food available at any of the free festivals, with tempting options from Big Mozz Pizza, Lonestar Empire BBQ, and Oaxaca Taquería, and ice cream from Blue Marble. A light quinoa salad provides a vegetarian option for those who prefer it.  If you forget to bring cash, vendors will also accept credit cards.

GOT ANY INSIDER TIPS?
So your train was slow and you got to the show too late to get in? SummerStage offers VIP memberships for two starting at $150 that get you into the venue all summer long with no waiting, even if the doors are already closed. Ask to sign up on-site at the VIP guest entrance, and they’ll charge your card and take care of you.

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BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn!

WHERE IS IT?
BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! shows take place exclusively at the Prospect Park Bandshell, adjacent to Prospect Park West and readily accessible from the 15th Street/Prospect Park F or G train. Take a right at the 11th Street entrance and you’ll run right into the gate.

WHAT SHOULD I SEE?
• Catch Grammy-winning banjo innovator Béla Fleck, with Broadway star and singer-songwriter enfant terrible Nellie McKay opening, on August 3.

 Jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran will lead the Wordless Music Orchestra to provide a live score for the Oscar-winning film Selma on August 10 (rain date is August 13).

Indie-pop stars Whitney, Moses Sumney, and Weyes Blood make August 11 one of the summer’s hottest shows.

WHAT CAN I EAT?
Stylish eatery The Farm on Adderley is providing a tasty (and seasonal) menu, featuring a “3 (plate) for $19” deal that includes vegetarian options. Finish up by sating your sweet tooth with a homemade Goodwich from The Good Batch. Wine and beer are also available on-site.

GOT ANY INSIDER TIPS?
As with SummerStage, the most popular BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! shows tend to hit capacity by showtime, and the gates must be closed for safety’s sake. A limited number of guest seats are held for members, though; for $150 per person, you’ll get guaranteed expedited entry and front-of-house seating for the whole season. Bump that up to $250 and you’ll also have access to a private members’ tent with separate bathrooms and bars, plus a ticket to a benefit show, to boot.

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Lincoln Center Out of Doors

WHERE IS IT?
Several shows take place in Lincoln Center’s Hearst Plaza, but the majority of the big-ticket events go down at Damrosch Park, which is off West 62nd Street, between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues. While you’re there, check out the ultra–Instagram-friendly Revson Fountain at Josie Robertson Plaza (smack in the middle of the complex) and the green-roofed Hypar Pavilion looming over a reflecting pool.

WHAT SHOULD I SEE?
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I consider this one to be the show of the summer: Angélique Kidjo’s performing the Talking Heads classic album Remain in Light, side by side with the American debut of the awesome Ibibio Sound Machine on August 2.

• August 4 is the New York premiere of composer Miguel Atwood Ferguson’s orchestral tribute to the late, great producer J Dilla, Suite for Ma Dukes.

• Brit-rock favorite Nick Lowe hosts an evening of retro rock that includes Nashville’s Los Straitjackets and Brooklyn’s Cut Worms on August 5.

• The annual Roots of American Music Weekend on August 12 and 13 is always filled with surprising delights like past headliners like Dr. John and Dwight Yoakam. This year’s lineup is no different, with blues songstress Bonnie Raitt, alt-country band The Jayhawks, and Vernon Reid of Living Colour celebrating the life and work of Chuck Berry.

WHAT CAN I EAT?
Options on-site are generally limited to the enjoyable Hill Country Barbecue, but the lines may get you down. Stray a little bit further down the block and get a seated meal at either Rosa Mexicano or PJ Clarke’s at Lincoln Square.

GOT ANY INSIDER TIPS?
Free summer festival shows can draw gargantuan audiences. A good rule of thumb is to show up at least a half an hour before doors open to make sure you get in. Luckily, there’s lots to do in the area; if you want to get there superearly, you can double up on your entertainment and either catch a film at the Film Society at Lincoln Center or explore the current exhibition at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, “Black Power!”

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Bryant Park Presents

WHERE IS IT?
Bryant Park is a beloved landmark directly behind another beloved landmark, the main branch of the New York Public Library. Concerts take place surrounding the Lowell Fountain, just off Sixth Avenue; some musical performances occur on the great lawn, and theater is often staged on the upper terrace adjacent to the Bryant Park Grill. If you’re traveling by subway, you’ll want to take the B/D/F/M line to the 42nd Street/Bryant Park stop.

WHAT SHOULD I SEE?
August offers two mini festivals:

• The classical and new music presentation Intersect features the Billy Childs Quartet and the the Triton Brass Quintet on August 4, and Luciana Souza, Metropolis Ensemble, and Derek Bermel with Nate Smith on August 5.

• The Emerging Music Festival series of pop and rock musicians includes sets from Landlady, 79.5, and Luke Elliot on August 18, and Space Captain, Rips, and Cassandra Jenkins on August 19.

WHAT CAN I EAT?
For sit-down indoor dining, you can stop by the aforementioned Bryant Park Grill for preshow drinks and dinner. For more on-the-fly eating that you can take straight to the show, try the Southwest Porch for burgers, salads, and a full bar with craft beer on tap and a roster of local whiskeys. For small bites, there are Wafel & Dinges, Le Pain Quotidien, and Joe Coffee Company kiosks.

GOT ANY INSIDER TIPS?
The park is working to position itself as a low-key, no-stress option for summertime music listening; none of the shows have lines, so feel free to come by when your schedule allows and explore something new. Bonus tip: Bryant Park hosts picnics on the great lawn every Friday, 5–10 p.m., and it offers free blanket rentals on request. Bonus bonus tip: Don’t miss the best public restroom in New York City.

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Since your wallet will be slightly fuller (thank you, free concerts!), let us help you treat yourself to something extra-decadent before or after showtime.